Monday musings on Australian literature: Miles Franklin Award, the fourth decade (1988-1997)

Miles Franklin
Miles Franklin, c. 1940s (Presume Public Domain, via Wikipedia)

This is my fourth post in a little sub-series looking at the Miles Franklin Award by decade.

As with the first three, written back in 2016, I don’t plan to list all the decade’s winners, as you can find them on the Award’s official site. Instead, I’ll share some interesting snippets, inspired by my Trove meanders. This mostly involved The Canberra Times and The Australian Jewish News, because this period is still within copyright, meaning the NLA can only digitise newspapers which have given them permission to do so.

Men in the ascendant (again)

In my third decade post (linked below), I noted the increase in awards made to women. Just five awards were won by women in the first two decades combined, but in the third decade, four of the nine awards went to women. This reflected, I suggested, the flowering of writing by Australian women in the late 1970s and 1980s. However, it wasn’t to last. In the fourth decade, eight of the nine awards made went to men – and the woman who did win generated one of the Award’s biggest controversies (see below). Without spoiling my fifth decade post, this “bias” towards men continued for another ten years or more, which inspired, among other things, the establishment of the Stella Award in 2012 … but, I’m jumping ahead. Let’s stay in the nineties for the moment.

The skewing towards men, not surprisingly, carried through to the shortlists, with 31 men shortlisted over the decade to 18 women. However, when it comes to multiple listings, four writers, two men and two women, were shortlisted three times: Rodney Hall and David Malouf, Thea Astley and Janette Turner Hospital (who has never won it).

The men who won included previous winners Peter Carey, Tim Winton, and Rodney Hall. The others were Tom Flood, David Malouf, Alex Miller, Christopher Koch and David Foster. I admit that I didn’t know Tom Flood, but Dorothy Hewett was his mother. His winning book, Oceana Fine, was his only novel.

There wasn’t much discussion about the skewing back then, but I did love Celal Bayari, who wrote in the the University of New South Wales’ Tharunka paper about Elizabeth Jolley missing out in 1989:

Jolley good book (ha ha)

JOLLEY’S latest has just been omitted from the shortlist for the Miles Franklin Award. That is a real shame because The Sugarmother is a great book.

Controversy (1)

The controversy concerned Helen Demidenko’s novel, The hand that signed the paper, which won in 1995. Bill (The Australian Legend) summarised the controversy beautifully in his post on the book, so why reinvent the wheel? Bill wrote:

For the benefit of non-Australians, the controversy surrounded the awarding of the 1995 Miles Franklin Award to Helen Demidenko for The Hand that Signed the Paper, the story of a Ukrainian family collaborating with the Nazis during the Holocaust. The granting of the Award to an anti-semitic work was justified on the grounds that Demidenko was telling the story of her people, until Demidenko, who would attend speaking engagements dressed in the costume of a Ukrainian peasant girl, was finally unmasked as Helen Darville, a University of Queensland student of entirely English background.

This was a multi-pronged controversy – and Bill explores some of the prongs in his excellent post. There were criticisms of the work itself: it was uneven and poorly written, it was racist/anti-semitic, it distorted history. There were criticisms of the author’s deception regarding her background, with some saying that the only reason they accepted this unpleasant book’s win was because the author was speaking for “her” people. (This feeds into current discussions about who can write what.) There was discussion about literary criticism – about whether it’s all about the text, or whether other considerations, like the author’s background, are relevant to assessing a work. There were discussions about the line between fact and fiction, particularly since Demidenko/Darville herself called her work “faction”. There were criticisms of plagiarism, which were subsequently overturned. There were suggestions that the author, around 24 at the time, was a disturbed young woman to be pitied. And, there were criticisms of the judges – of their decision in the first place, their refusal to admit they were wrong, and their not engaging in discussion. The novel was apparently shortlisted for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award, and then quietly un-shortlisted before the announcement. The controversy raged for months.

The book, by the way, had previously won the 1993 The Australian/Vogel LiteraryAward for unpublished manuscript, and in 1995 it also won the ALS Gold Medal.

The Canberra Times‘ literary editor at the time, Robert Hefner, suggested that the book “could well prove to be one of the most divisive books in Australian history”. Not surprisingly, it sold well. By August 1995, according to her publisher, it had sold 25,000 copies, and they were preparing to republish it under the author’s real name.

Controversy (2)

Lest you think, however, that this was the only Miles Franklin Award controversy of the decade, think again. The ongoing issue of the “Australian content” requirement raised its head during the decade too. In 1994, when Rodney Hall won for The grisly wife, The Canberra Times reports that, “The Georges’ Wife [Elizabeth Jolley], and Frank Moorhouse’s Grand Days, were disqualified because the judges decided they did not have enough Australian content”.

No award (again)

In both the second and third decades, there was a year in which no award was made. It happened again this decade but for a purely administrative reason, to do with changing the award’s timing from year of publication to year of announcement!

The value of awards

Given I’ve posted on the value of awards recently, I’ll conclude by sharing a couple of points that came out of this little piece of research.

David Malouf said, on winning in 1991 with The great world,

“An award like this is a bit like the Archibald to painting. Both are extremely well known and important … People who don’t necessarily buy a book when it first comes out are interested to see what books turn up on the short list and which book wins. That kind of interest is always very important.”

He also admits that winning awards offers reassurance:

“Writers are very diffident, basically. They’re always doubtful of themselves and it’s always good when you are offered approval for what you have done”

Similarly, Alex Miller, who won in 1993 for The ancestor game said:

“I decided it was terrific to be short-listed and that was that, and I just got on with my work, and then when I was told last Wednesday I really couldn’t believe it … It’s enormous validation and acknowledgment, for sure.

It’s a bit of a watershed, isn’t it, winning something like Miles Franklin.”

And Rodney Hall, winning in 1994 with The grisly wife, said “this has picked me up”.

I mentioned above sales for Demidenko/Darville’s book, but that had the “benefit” of controversy. Tim Winton’s 1992-winning Cloudstreet experienced a boost in sales. The Canberra Times reported less than two months after Winton’s win:

… Tim Winton returned recently from a 30-day promotional tour of the United States, where Graywolf’s beautiful hardback edition of his Miles Franklin Award-winning novel Cloudstreet has already sold more than 12,000 copies. In Australia, where it was published by McPhee Gribble and Penguin, sales have topped 60,000.

Let’s leave the fourth decade there!

Past posts in the series

Miles Franklin Award 2021 winner announced

Nothwithstanding this week’s Monday Musings posts on literary awards, I still like the Miles Franklin – partly because of its significance in the Australian literary firmament – and so I am sharing today’s announcement of this year’s winner which I watched via You Tube.

You may remember that this years shortlist was:

  • Aravind Adiga’s Amnesty (Lisa’s review)
  • Robbie Arnott’s The rain heron
  • Daniel Davis Wood’s At the edge of the solid world
  • Amanda Lohrey’s The Labyrinth (Lisa’s review)
  • Andrew Pippos’ Lucky’s
  • Madeleine Watts’ The inland sea
Book cover

And the winner is: Amanda Lohrey’s Labyrinth

(Lisa will be pleased!)

Just to recap, from my shortlist post: Each of the shortlisted writers received $5000 from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund, with the winner receiving $60,000 prize. This year’s judges comprised, as always, continuing judges and new ones, providing I think a good mix of experience and fresh ideas: Richard Neville (State Library of NSW), author and activist Sisonke Msimang, and critics Melinda Harvey, Bernadette Brennan and James Ley.

So, more on the winner …

This is Lohrey’s second listing for the Miles Franklin award, but her first win. The panel described the novel as a “profound mediation” on loss, with judging panel chair, Richard Neville commanding the “clarity” of her prose in exploring “loss at so many levels”. (Notably, Neville also mentioned the increasing cultural diversity appearing in the awards, by which I assume he meant, in the books submitted. Ninety-six titles were submitted.)

Amanda Lohrey spoke briefly, thanking various people – including family, publisher, editor, of course. She praised her publisher, the wonderful Text Publishing, for supporting “literary values” and she talked of the award’s benefactor, Miles Franklin, as “the great Australian nonconformist”. She also thanked the readers whom she described as an “indestructible tribe” in a world of Netflix (etc). She characterised the relationship between writer and readers as “an extraordinary exchange among strangers.” I like that.

Book cover

The presentation also included last year’s winner Tara June Winch congratulating Amanda Lohrey. She said that what she gained, in particular, from the award, was “a readership”. Isn’t that great to hear, because that – and the “gift of time” – is what we hope awards like this offer books and their writers.

And, finally, just for fun. Today The Sydney Morning Herald published an article on How to win the Miles Franklin: Analysing 64 years of data, by Pallavi Singhal. It looks at the usual issues like gender, origin (birth location, ethnicity), age, but also other points you may not have considered like length (“write about 400 pages”, it says), title style (“Begin your book title with ‘the’ and keep it short”) and publisher (Allen & Unwin is ahead at the moment)!

Do you have any thoughts on this year’s winner?

Miles Franklin Award 2021 shortlist

I haven’t posted on the Miles Franklin Award since 2019, and I didn’t post this year’s longlist when it came out last month, but, despite my woeful record – I’ve yet to read any on the longlist – I felt it was about time I returned to Australia’s best known literary award.

Unfortunately, I was driving in the back blocks of northeast Victoria when the announcement was made, with no Internet connection in our room overnight. We have landed in civilisation – hmmm – depending on you definition, and are once more connected! I thought I’d start by sharing the longlist:

The longlist

Book cover
  • Aravind Adiga’s Amnesty (Lisa’s review)
  • Robbie Arnott’s The rain heron
  • Daniel Davis Wood’s At the edge of the solid world
  • Gail Jones’ Our shadows
  • Sofie Laguna’s Infinite Splendours (on my TBR and will definitely be read this year)
  • Amanda Lohrey’s The Labyrinth (Lisa’s review)
  • Laura Jean Mckay’s The animals in that country (my, I wish I’d read this already, given its popularity on awards lists)
  • Andrew Pippos’ Lucky’s
  • Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone sky, gold mountain (on my TBR)
  • Philip Salom’s The fifth season (on my TBR) (Lisa’s review)
  • Nardi Simpson’s Song of the crocodile ((on my TBR and will definitely be read this year)
  • Madeleine Watts’ The inland sea

The judges describe the spread as “‘a rich mix of well-established, early career and debut novelists whose work ranges from historical fiction to fabulism and psychologism”.

And now, the shortlist:

  • Aravind Adiga’s Amnesty
  • Robbie Arnott’s The rain heron
  • Daniel Davis Wood’s At the edge of the solid world
  • Amanda Lohrey’s The Labyrinth
  • Andrew Pippos’ Lucky’s
  • Madeleine Watts’ The inland sea

Some random observations:

  • Two of the authors – Adiga and Wood – are not Australian-born or based, but meet the award’s criteria because their subject matter is Australian (that is, they present ‘Australian life in any of its phases’). Adiga won the Booker Prize in 2008 with The white tiger, and Wood is apparently the founder and publisher of Splice, a small UK-based press.
  • None of these books are on my TBR pile – wah – though I have been wanting to read Lohrey so this might be the impetus I need.
  • There appears to be less diversity in terms of author background, though Adiga is Indian.
  • There are four women and two men, which is fine, particularly given the award has rebalanced the gender representation well over recent years.
  • None of these authors have won the Award before, but two, Arnott and Lohrey, have been listed before.
  • Two – Pippos and Watts – are debut novelists.
  • Lisa (ANZLitLovers) will be happy as she was mightily impressed with Lohrey’s Labyrinth (see her review above).

Each of the shortlisted writers will receive $5000 from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund, with the winner receiving $60,000 prize.

The chair of the judging panel, Richard Neville, said

‘In various ways each of this year’s shortlisted books investigate destructive loss: of loved ones, freedom, self and the environment … There is, of course, beauty and joy to be found, and decency and hope, largely through the embrace of community but, as the shortlist reminds us, often community is no match for more powerful forces.’

This year’s judges comprise, as always, continuing judges and new ones, providing I think a good mix of experience and fresh ideas: Richard Neville (State Library of NSW), author and activist Sisonke Msimang, and critics Melinda Harvey, Bernadette Brennan and James Ley.

The winner will be announced on 15 July.

And, for a bit of fun, we saw this on a school notice board as we drove by today:

I always knock on the fridge door just in case salad’s dressing. (Eltham Primary School) 

What do you think – of the shortlist, I mean!?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Indigenous Australian writers and the Miles Franklin Award

This is not going to be a treatise on the Miles Franklin Award and diversity. We all know literary awards have not been as diverse as they could have been (and that they still have a way to go). We know, too, that this is not only due to judging, but also reflects the fact that the publishing industry has not been as diverse as it could be. It is probably also true that, in the past at least, we readers have not demanded more diversity in our reading. However, this story is too complex for this post, and, anyhow, has been explored many times. Today, I simply want to celebrate those Indigenous Australian writers who have been listed for and/or won Australia’s (arguably) most prestigious literary award, the Miles Franklin, in the spirit of bringing attention to their work as a body of literature.

Notwithstanding the above, I do need to make the point that it wasn’t until 2000 that we started seeing Indigenous Australian writers appear in the short and longlists for the award*.

  • 2000 Kim Scott’s Benang (won) (Lisa’s and Bill’s reviews)
  • 2007 Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria (won) (my review)
  • 2011 Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance (won) (my review)
  • 2012 Tony Birch Blood (shortlisted) (Lisa’s review)
  • 2014 Melissa Lucashenko Mullumbimby (longlisted) (Lisa’s review)
  • 2014 Alexis Wright The Swan Book (shortlisted) (Lisa’s and Bill’s reviews)
  • 2016 Tony Birch Ghost River (longlisted) (my review)
  • 2018 Kim Scott’s Taboo (shortlisted) (Lisa’s and Bill’s reviews)
  • 2019 Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip (won) (my review)
  • 2020 Tony Birch’s The white girl (shortlisted) (my review)
  • 2020 Tara June Winch’s The yield (won) (my review)

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You could probably call this a round-up of the usual suspects, in terms of contemporary Indigenous Australian novelists, with Kim Scott and Tony Birch appearing three times, Melissa Lucashenko and Alexis Wright twice each, and of course relative newbie, Tara June Winch, once. It’s notable that every book here deals with Indigenous issues. This is important for truth-telling, but it will be a measure of our maturity as a nation when Indigenous Australian writers can feel free of the need to carry these truths on their backs.

Anyhow, I wonder what Miles Franklin would say? When she said “without an indigenous literature, people can remain alien in their own soil”, I don’t believe she was thinking of the real Indigenous people of this soil. However, I imagine that, were she living now, she would love the richness that the growth of Indigenous Australian literature has brought to Australian life and culture.

It seems apposite, then, to leave this (very) little tribute with the words of this year’s winner, Tara June Winch, as quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, “It doesn’t have to be POC writers against white voices – we have to work together to bring voices to the fore.” Absolutely. Let’s hope more and more diverse writers get to tell their stories to us. I – and I know many of my litblogging friends – love to read them. Meanwhile, if you haven’t read it yet, I recommend that you do read The yield, a complex but strong book which its author calls “a once-in-a-lifetime love letter to Australia.”

Have you read any of the listed books, and if so, would you like to share your favourite/s?

* I may have missed a writer or two, as I didn’t find complete lists of short and longlisted authors from the beginning of the award, but I think my point still stands.

Miles Franklin Award 2019 Winner announced!

Melissa Lucashenko, Too Much LipWell, good news for me (because it’s all about me of course!) Not only had I read more of the longlist and the shortlist than is my usual achievement, but one of those books is the winner – and a wonderful winner it is too, Melissa Lucashenko’s Too much lip (my review)!

Really, as much as I liked the other contenders I’d read, I did hope this would win – because it is truth-telling of the most honest sort. Indeed, Lucashenko has said that she expected backlash (which didn’t come) from indigenous communities for her no-holds barred story about a rather dysfunctional indigenous family in which violence and substance abuse, in particular, is no stranger.  Lucashenko, does, of course, underpin this squarely with references to/evocation of the causes, that is, the intergenerational trauma indigenous people have experienced after two centuries of dispossession (and all the policies and practices that have ensued to deny them equality, dignity, and thus the health and security that we all deserve as citizens of this country.)

But, in addition to this honest, real story about contemporary indigenous lives and culture – about the challenge of marrying traditional beliefs and values with contemporary life – is the fact that it’s a rip-roaring tale. Humorous, page-turning, with colourful, individuated characters. If you haven’t read it yet, you surely will now!?

Jason Steger, writing in The Sydney Morning Herald, says

It’s not surprising that Melissa Lucashenko says Too Much Lip was her most difficult book to write. After all, it deals with physical and substance abuse, violence, marginalisation, displacement and dispossession, racism and incarceration within the experience of one Indigenous family.

He quotes the judges as saying that she “weaves a (sometimes) fabulous tale with the very real politics of cultural survival to offer a story of hope and redemption for all Australians”. Exactly!

I apologise for the delayed announcement – I was at reading group last night, and was distracted by our exciting discussions!

But, woo hoo! This is an inspired and inspiring choice! Well done judges, I say.

What do you think?

Miles Franklin Award 2019 shortlist

Well, good news for me in that I had read three of the longlist, and two of those have made it through to the shortlist. Interestingly, the one that didn’t, Trent Dalton’s Boy swallows universe, has been making such a splash that I rather expected it to be shortlisted. But, as we all know, you can never second guess literary judges.

So, here is the shortlist:

  • Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s The Lebs (Nancy’s review) (Hachette)
  • Gregory Day’s A sand archive (Lisa’s review) (Picador)
  • Rodney Hall’s A stolen season (my review) (Picador)
  • Gail Jones’ The death of Noah Glass (Text)
  • Melissa Lucashenko’s Too much lip (my review) (UQP)
  • Jennifer Mills’ Dyschronia (Lisa’s review) (Picador)

Rodney Hall, A stolen season

Some random observations:

  • There’s fair diversity here, with Ahmad and Lucashenko both making to to the shortlist.
  • Three women and three men! That’s neat.
  • Rodney Hall has won twice before, for Just relations and The grisly wife, and has now been shortlisted four more times.
  • Lucashenko has, this year, been shortlisted for the Stella Prize, the Victorian and NSW Premiers’ literary awards, and the Australian Book Industry awards.
  • This will be the fourth time that Gail Jones has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin.
  • And, three of the six books were published by Picador! Congrats to them.

Melissa Lucashenko, Too Much LipStefanie Convery, writing in The Guardian (Australia), reports that:

Judge Bernadette Brennan said this year’s authors were “unafraid to take risks” in their narratives, which addressed “complex, disparate and urgent aspects of contemporary Australian life”.

This is certainly true of the two I’ve read …

Michaela Boland, writing for the ABC News, spoke to Michael Mohammed Ahmad, and wrote this:

While Mr Ahmad said that [winning the Prize] would be welcomed, the honour itself had already eased the insecurity and inadequacy he said was inherent to being an Arab Muslim immigrant in Australia.

“Three years ago our immigration minister Peter Dutton said second or third-generation Lebanese Australians like me are the mistakes of the Fraser government,” he said, after he learned his second book was one of the six short-listed.

It’s so distressing that Ahmad and, clearly, many other Australian citizens have to live their lives feeling this way – and that our government doesn’t seem to think it has a role to play in setting a welcoming, inclusive tone.

Anyhow, the judges, as I wrote in my longlist post, for this year are almost the same as last year’s: Richard Neville (State Library of NSW),  Murray Waldren (journalist and columnist for The Australian), Dr Melinda Harvey (book critic), Lindy Jones (bookseller), and Bernadette Brennan (author and literary critic). Brennan replaces last year’s Susan Sheridan.

The winner will be announced on 30 July in Sydney.

What do you think?

Miles Franklin Award 2019 Longlist

Trent Dalton, Boy swallows universeWoo hoo! Last year I had only read and reviewed one book on the Miles Franklin longlist, but this year I’ve read three! It’s a record (for me, anyhow!)

Here is the list:

  • Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s The Lebs (Nancy’s review) (Hachette)
  • Robbie Arnott’s Flames  (Lisa’s review) (Text)
  • Trent Dalton’s Boy swallows universe (my review) (Fourth Estate)
  • Gregory Day’s A sand archive (Lisa’s review) (Picador)
  • Lexi Freiman’s Inappropriation ( A&U)
  • Rodney Hall’s A stolen season (my review) (Picador)
  • Gail Jones’ The death of Noah Glass (Text)
  • Melissa Lucashenko’s Too much lip (my review) (UQP)
  • Jennifer Mills’ Dyschronia (Lisa’s review) (Picador)
  • Tracy Sorenson’s The lucky galah (Lisa’s review) (Picador).

Rodney Hall, A stolen seasonSome random observations:

  • There are 10 on the longlist. The Miles Franklin judges have, in recent years, not constrained themselves to a set number for their longlist. In 2018 there were 11 books, In 2016 and 2017, there were 9 books, and in 2015 there were 10.)
  • Half of the longlisted books are by women writers. Two of these, Gail Jones and Melissa Lucashenko, were also longlisted for the Stella Prize.
  • Rodney Hall has won twice before, for Just relations and The grisly wife, and been shortlisted three more times.
  • I was little surprised not to see Enza Gandolfo’s The bridge on the list – but this is always the way. I accept that!
  • There are debut authors here – including Trent Dalton and Tracy Sorenson – and many well established ones (who don’t seen to be named!)

Melissa Lucashenko, Too Much LipState Library of NSW Mitchell Librarian Richard Neville, said, on behalf of the judging panel:

The 2019 Miles Franklin longlist yet again highlights a mixture of new and established writers. It showcases ten of the most vibrant voices of Australian fiction speaking to us of lives facing, or having endured, some version of extremity. Angry, funny, contemplative and urgent, these voices—which include a galah—explore personal, historical and ecological loss, cultural inheritances and disenfranchisement, and the fraught bonds of friendships, families and communities.

I am rushing to go out… so will leave that for you to think about.

The judges for this year are almost the same as last year’s: Richard Neville (State Library of NSW),  Murray Waldren (journalist and columnist for The Australian), Dr Melinda Harvey (book critic), Lindy Jones (bookseller), and Bernadette Brennan (author and literary critic). Brennan replaces last year’s Susan Sheridan.

The shortlist will be announced on 2 July at the State Library of New South Wales, and the winner on 30 July in Sydney.

What do you think?

Monday musings on Australian literature: 1950s prose-poets criticised

Randolph Stow, To the islandsSerendipitously, while trawling Trove for something else recently, I came across a fascinating article in the Tribune about the winners of the first two Miles Franklin Awards. The article was written by Jack Beasley in July 1959, and the two winners were Patrick White’s Voss (1957), and Randolph Stow’s To the islands (1958), two books which are now regarded as significant Australian classics. Jack Beasley wouldn’t have agreed!

So, who was Jack Beasley? Born in 1921, he was interested in the arts, was closely associated with the Australasian Book Society, and at one stage had his own publishing company. He wrote several books, including a memoir and a couple of books on Katharine Susannah Prichard. He was also a member, for many years, of the Communist Party of Australia. The Tribune, for those of you who don’t know, was the Party’s official newspaper. This background is relevant to his criticism of White and Stow’s wins.

Patrick White, VossHe commences his article by stating that Randolph Stow’s winning the award has created quite a lot of discussion, particularly since it followed Patrick White’s winning for Voss the year before:

The two authors are the leading exponents of the so-called “prose-poetry” school, very fashionable today in literary circles attached to the big publishing houses.

He quotes Sidney J. Baker, whom he describes as a Sydney Morning Herald authority. Baker

regards their work as a “new type, of novel … distinguished by strength and sincerity and blowing away traditional debris like a cool wind after sizzling heat.” It should be added that among the “traditional debris” blown away are the traditions for which Miles Franklin herself so firmly stood.

Hmm, so the award should only be for writers who write in the same style as Miles Franklin?

Anyhow, Beasley writes that Franklin “believed that literature drew its ideas from life and attachment to native soil, and she wrote with a vigorous, entertaining prose”:

Her major work, ‘”All That Swagger” is notable for Danny Delacy and his “brave Joanna,” Irish immigrants who go through life undaunted by its buffetings and rejoicing in its happinesses.

In sorry contrast are the morbid heroes of Messrs. White and Stow, who flee from life and society in search of some individual haven.

To Beasley, prose-poetry “is a fad of style, a pretentious juggling of words and grammar”. He quotes from both White and Stow to prove his point, and then argues that while this “obscure” style is new in Australia, it “emerged many years ago in bourgeois culture”. He names “Joyce, Proust, Virginia Woolf and the extreme case, Gertrude Stein” as exponents of the style.

“Individual haven” and “Bourgeois culture” give away his leanings. He discusses To the islands:

According to some reviewers, “To the Islands” shows a warm sympathy for the Aborigines. This is partly true, but an even warmer sympathy is shown for the missionaries and whatever might be the personal motivation of individual missionaries, history has shown that the missions have played their part in the destruction of tribal life and the continuing ordeal of the Aboriginal people.

This is of course true, but what becomes increasingly clear is that Beasley’s main criticism is in fact less the style than the content of White and Stow’s work. The criticism focuses very much on the fact that their focus is the “individual” which is not part of Communist ethos. He describes White and Stow as being “closely bound to the capitalist class”, and writes that their protagonists, Voss and Heriot,

are nothing more than the bourgeois intellectuals, or more correctly a personification of the crisis of the intellectuals, desperately reaching for a sanctuary. They feel the sands shifting beneath them but are still unable because of their individualism to accept the new ideas that are emerging.

He believes intellectuals need to grasp new ways of thinking:

Only by coming to the working class and taking their part in the struggles led by this class for a better life, only by ceasing to believe in the omniscience of the lonely individual and learning in life of the inexhaustible strength of collective ideas, can the intellectuals have a future.

The socialist countries show again and again that there is no hostile contradiction there between the intellectuals and the proletariat and the Australian workers have always welcomed those who joined their cause.

Only at the end of his article does he return, somewhat off-handedly, to the style issue:

It is not suggested that Miles Franklin would have supported all of the views stated above [that is, his political views], but both the misanthropic themes and the literary quality of the two prizewinners are at variance with her view of life and literary standard.

It might have ended there but, intriguingly, a few weeks later, a letter in response appeared in the same paper – by author Alan Marshall. He thought the article was the “best analysis” he’d read of this new trend, but he takes issue with a couple of points. One is Beasley’s generalisation about “intellectuals”, his tarring them all with the same brush, but the other is his use of the term of “prose poets”.

Marshall writes:

What is wrong with prose poetry? The works of Katharine Prichard are full of it; Turgenev was a master at it; Gorky often delighted in it; Sholokhov’s works feature it. It can lift prose to its highest level and be an inspiration to mankind. In the hands of the writers I have mentioned it not only appeals to the highest emotions but to the reason as well.

Patrick White and Stow are not Prose Poets.

They are obscurantists juggling words to obscure sense in an effort, to create a sense of profundity. They believe readers have little faith in their judgement; that readers praise what they cannot understand for fear of being regarded as incapable of appreciating good writing.

Ouch … “obscurantists”, not “prose poets”.

I’m leaving it here. I’m sharing this because I like hearing the arguments and ideas of another time, and testing them against our own (with the benefit of time). Marshall’s criticism of authors writing obscurely to create profundity is often trotted out. But, clearly, his and Beasley’s assessments of White and Stow have not stood the test of time, thank goodness.

Miles Franklin Award 2018 Shortlist

Having posted this year’s Miles Franklin Award Longlist I decided I may as well keep on with it! After all, it is, probably, Australia’s most watched award. The shortlist was announced in Canberra tonight – not that I was invited!

Catherine McKinnon, StorylandHere is the list:

Some random observations:

  • Gerald Murnane, a neglected Australian author has made it through to the shortlist, which is great to see. Of being longlisted, he said he was “gratified”, because it was “a suitable reward for the hard task of writing the book.”
  • Two previous winners, Michelle de Kretser and Kim Scott, have made it through.
  • Recent winner of the Premier’s Award in the 2018 Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature, Hornung, has also made the cut. Her novel The Last Garden has also been shortlisted for the ALS Gold Medal. Hornung, who hasn’t been listed for the Miles Franklin, said of being longlisted that it felt “like a personal endorsement.”
  • McKinnon, who has been overlooked, to date, by other awards, has also been shortlisted – which is great to see because it’s an interesting book and a good read. She said about being longlisted that she was “Delighted, dizzy, honoured, thrilled.” What will she feel now!
  • Four of the six books are by women writers, and one is by an indigenous writer.

Judge Richard Neville, Mitchell Librarian of the State Library of NSW, said, justifying the shortlisting in terms of Miles Franklin’s criteria:

The Miles Franklin 2018 shortlist engages with the complexities of Australian life in all of its phases, and the legacy of its timeless Indigenous past and its recent European present. All the novels explore how Australians connect with their complex stories, with their emotional histories, and with the legacy of colonisation. Each author in the shortlist considers what it means to live in a particular location, with unique and challenging vision. The vibrancy of contemporary Australian literature, and its relevance to thinking through the challenges of modern Australia, is confirmed with this diverse and intelligent shortlist.

The winner will take away $60,000, and each shortlisted order will receive $5,000 from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund.

The judges for this year are: Richard Neville (State Library of NSW),  Murray Waldren (journalist and columnist for The Australian), Dr Melinda Harvey (book critic), Lindy Jones (bookseller), and Susan Sheridan (Emeritus Professor in Humanities, Flinders University).

The winner will be announced in Melbourne on 26 August. I congratulate them all and wish them luck …

Is your favourite there? Do you want to make a prediction?

Miles Franklin Award 2018 Longlist

Catherine McKinnon, StorylandI didn’t post the Miles Franklin Award Longlist last year, but I’m intrigued by this year’s list so am sharing it with you – though I’m sure most Aussie readers will have seen it already.

Here is the list:

Some random observations:

  • There are 11 on the longlist, which is interesting in itself – the Miles Franklin judges have, in recent years at least, not constrained themselves to a set number for their longlist. In 2016 and 2017, there were 9 books, and in 2015 there were 10.
  • Six of the longlisted books are by women writers. Only one of these, Michelle de Kretser, was also longlisted for the Stella Prize.
  • The list, unlike the Stella, is rather short on diversity, though, in addition to representing women well, it does include twice-winning indigenous writer, Kim Scott and Sri Lankan-born Michelle de Kretser.
  • This is the first time that Gerald Murnane – frequently tipped as Australia’s next Nobel Laureate in Literature – has been listed for the award. About time.
  • Peter Carey has won three times. If he wins this year, he will equal Tim Winton and Thea Astley who have both won four.
  • I have several on my TBR, and others I would like to be there, but have only read one, Catherine McKinnon’s  Storyland which, I was starting to think, was not going to be listed for any awards, despite its fascinating structure and all-round good story.
  • I’m a little surprised not to see Claire G. Coleman’s Terra nullius nor Sofie Laguna’s The choke on the list.
  • The ABC notes in its announcement that it’s “a list that’s light on outliers, all writers have been shortlisted for, or won, at least one major literary award.”
  • Oh, and not surprisingly, Lisa has reviewed a lot of them!!

The judges for this year are: Richard Neville (State Library of NSW),  Murray Waldren (journalist and columnist for The Australian), Dr Melinda Harvey (book critic), Lindy Jones (bookseller), and Susan Sheridan (Emeritus Professor in Humanities, Flinders University).

The shortlist will be announced in Canberra on 17 June, and the winner in Melbourne on 26 August.

What do you think?